WEST FORSYTH — The effort to establish a Hindu temple in west Forsyth cleared another hurdle Monday night as the Zoning Board of Appeals ruled the proposed building would be used for religious services rather than educational purposes.
The vote during the special called meeting was 3-1-1, with board member Edward Kroell opposed and Bettina Hammond absent.
Last summer, the Forsyth County commission approved Chinmaya Mission of Alpharetta’s plan to operate a religious place of worship and priest residence in an existing building that is about 10,000 square feet on nearly 11 acres off Pittman Road.
The Hindu organization also got permission to build several additional buildings that would bring the project to about 60,000 square feet with some 300 parking spaces.
According to its website, the mission currently holds some classes and worship services at South Forsyth Middle School.
The meeting Monday was the result of an appeal filed by James Cartwright and the neighboring Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners Association.
They questioned the decision made by Tom Brown, Forsyth’s planning and community development director, who determined the center would be used as a place or worship.
Opponents maintained that since the building would teach language and culture classes, and because certain members of the mission had referred to it as a school in emails and news reports, that it was closer to a school or personal service center.
Under the land’s zoning as agriculture district, or A1, a religious center with a conditional use permit would be allowed while a school or personal service center would not.
“This appeal in not about Chinmaya Mission of Alpharetta,” said Kevin Tallant, attorney for Cartwright. “This appeal is about land use and the terms of our unified development code.”
Those backing the mission as a religious center compared the classes to Sunday school in Christian churches and said the children who attend them go to regular public or private school. They also maintained that all churches have separate programs not tied directly to worship.
“Many churches offer potluck dinners, spaghetti socials and fish fries, sounds a whole lot like the operation of a restaurant. Is that where we want to go in Forsyth County?” asked County Attorney Ken Jarrard, who represented Brown.
“Many religious services offer wine during communion, would we require them to have on premise alcohol license? My points are rhetorical. Of course, we won’t. Because we understand those are attributes of religious expression.”
Those who argued that the mission was a school or personal service establishment have 10 days to appeal the decision to the county commission.